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Sven Mary, the celebrity lawyer defending Salah Abdeslam

Aurore Belot / Belga / AFP | Sven Mary, Belgian lawyer of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, talks to the media outside the building of the Federal Police in Brussels, on March 19, 2016
4 min

Salah Abdeslam, who became Europe’s most famous fugitive after fleeing the scene of the November 13 Paris attacks, is being represented by Belgium’s most famous lawyer.


Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested on Friday for his connection to last November’s attacks in which 130 people died and over 400 were injured in the French capital, is being represented by well-known Belgian criminal defence lawyer Sven Mary.

At 43, Mary has been called “the star of the Belgian bench” as well as “the villain’s lawyer” (avocat des crapules) for representing a gamut of high-profile criminals.

His clients include Fouad Belkacem, spokesperson for the radical Salafist organisation Sharia4Belgium, who in 2015 was sentenced to 12 years in prison for helping provide jihadist fighters in Syria; Michel Lelièvre, sentenced to 25 years in prison for being the right-hand man in a notorious pedophilia ring run by Marc Dutroux in the 1990s; and Murat Kaplan, nicknamed “The Getaway King” for his multiple prison escapes.

He also represents French movie icon Jean-Paul Belmondo, who has gone through a number of well-publicized divorces and separations in recent years.

Before becoming a lawyer Mary played on the junior team of Brussels’ prestigious football club Anderlecht. A bad injury cut short his dreams of a sports career, but Mary took his pugnacity to the courtroom and hasn’t given up the attack since then.

So it’s no surprise that the attorney is fighting his latest client’s extradition to France by arguing that the French state has overreached its authority.

‘Climate of fear’

Mary has said he wants to combat the “climate of fear” that has ruled France and Belgium since the November attacks.

“What motivates me is fighting against arbitrariness and abuse of power,” he told Belgian daily Le Soir in December. “And right now [after the attacks] we have plenty of it.”

He has said he will fight Abdeslam’s extradition by arguing that, since there was a criminal investigation in Brussels, "we don't need him (Abdeslam) in France. We need him in Belgium".

Any hasty extradition would be motivated by a sense of guilt, he said, since the attacks were prepared and coordinated in Belgium and several attackers came from Brussels.

"Perhaps we should tone down our groveling to compensate for the sense of guilt we feel toward France," Mary said after he and Abdeslam met with a Belgian investigating magistrate on Saturday.

On Sunday, Mary told Dutch daily De Standaard that he also plans to take legal action against François Molins, after the French prosecutor spoke publicly about Abdeslam’s motives.

At a Paris news conference on Friday, Molins read from Abdeslam's statement to a Brussels magistrate, saying: "He wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and, I quote, 'backed out'."

Molins’s statements “violated the secrecy of the investigation”, Mary said.

An anonymous contact

The defence lawyer’s connection with the Abdeslam case started well before Friday’s arrest, however.

In December 2015 Mary had already expressed his interest in the Belgian-born terror suspect to Le Soir.

“If tomorrow Salah Abdeslam asked me for counsel, I would accept to be his lawyer,” Mary told the daily.

In January, a person “close” to Abdeslam contacted Mary about the case, the lawyer told French weekly L’Express on Friday. There was no further contact with the Mary until after Abdeslam’s arrest.

The lawyer has not identified the associate, but the Abdeslam family has said they did not contact Mary.

No head-line grabber

According to Mary, the lawyer chooses his clients to fight abuses of power, not to grab headlines.

“If someone is described as public enemy number one, I want to fight that abuse of authority,” he is reported as having said in the French edition of Metro.

On March 18, after Abdeslam had been arrested but before Mary took up his defense, Mary expressed an interest in Abdeslam’s case. He clarified, however, that he wouldn’t represent Abdeslam if the suspect tried to argue that he hadn’t participated in the Paris attacks.

“That would bore me and I wouldn’t defend him,” Mary told L’Express.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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